The semiotics of environmental portraiture became more important to me towards the end of my previous project. I was ultimately concerned with the act of wandering, exploring and responding to different places within the city, and I seemingly obsessed over the idea of a ‘drosscape’ or ‘heterotopia’. I became fascinated with the act of encountering people within places of transition. Therefore, for this current project, I really want to push myself even further out of my comfort zone with regards to environmental portraiture, and also my ability to communicate a clear narrative through photography.
Developing a “deep, critical awareness of a social grouping or aspect of culture” outside of my immediate sphere of experience seems like a very exciting and open ended brief. Towards the end of my last project, Void & Density, I was fortunate enough to meet a group of punks and skin-heads who frequent a place which one might call a ‘local working-mans’ pub. They showed me hospitality, and they were interested in the purpose of my photography. As someone who is interested in two-tone and ska music, I thought that investigating this subculture within Bristol would be a great photographic opportunity. Having established an initial point of contact and a basis of trust, I have continued to communicate with a couple of people who identify them as punks. One thing that was mentioned was a substantially large punk music festival which is being held at The Fleece in February. Myself and Dan Haseem (third year Photography) have already planned to set up a small studio close to the venue, with a hope to make portraits of some of the people attending. Clearly, there will be some technical and professional issues to consider, such as protecting the equipment, and also photographing in a busy public space.
Although I interested in this social group, I would currently like to have this small project as a side burner. This is because I think there would be more scope in another idea, which is to investigate and document the idea of the local Bristol pub. Something that struck me whilst photographing for my previous project was the sense of community that The Ship Inn had, and how everyone there had an interesting story to tell. It very much felt like a subculture or social circle in itself. I would therefore like to investigate the differences in Public Houses depending on the area of Bristol they are situated in. I believe this would give me access to a vast array of people, and highlighting the differences would hopefully provide an insight into the life of a ‘local’ habitant of Bristol.
Naturally, this idea progressed further, and I came across an interesting archive website dedicated to historical documents, photographs and videos concerned with the local Bristol music and racial rights scene. Within some archive video footage from the eighties, a man called Roy De Freitas caught my attention. As a black African-Caribbean man, he was responsible for pioneering and setting up the Trinity Centre in Old Market. This became a place for likeminded individuals from ethnic minority communities, in which they were able to achieve personal development and become active members of society.
I would therefore like to investigate the Roots Reggae scene in Bristol, and document the African-Caribbean community. Such areas as St. Pauls and Easton have attracted people from these ethnic minorities since the eighties, so I am therefore interested to see how gentrification has affected the communities that live there. I have already been in contact with people that work at the Trinity Centre, and I plan to meet them to discuss this project further.
Clearly, I have multiple ideas that are interlinked, but I need to decide on which route to pursue. I plan to research in depth each possibility and make a decision based on which idea has the most to give, and ultimately the one I am most interested in making work about.
Clearly, it is evident from my initial proposal that I was more interested in looking at the culture of public houses or the Roots Reggae movement in Bristol. However, after researching into the Reggae scene in more depth, it became apparent that a lot of photographers had already looked at a similar scene, and I did not want to produce a project that looked like a copy of existing work. I therefore decided to turn my attention towards the other idea, which was the public house culture. I was already aware of the Irish Centre in Birmingham, and wanted to combine the Reggae idea with this theme. I therefore originally planned to document the Black Irish scene in England, but soon realised that this was a ridiculously niche scene to focus on!
Following on from this discovery, I decided to focus solely on the Irish communities instead, beginning with the Irish Centre in Birmingham. I went on an early recce trip to the city and explored the cultural capital of Digbeth, where the Irish frequent. It was only by chance that I caught the tail end of The Tuesday Club one afternoon whilst having lunch with my friend in the Centre. I met with Sister Teresa and she kindly let me make a portrait of her and her three friends. We talked about the Club, and she invited me back the following week to meet other members and to hopefully make more photographs.
The next week I caught an early bus to arrive before the Club began, and set up my camera. I was not disappointed with the number of Irish people who turned out. It was refreshing to see so many older Irish people with endless stories which fascinated me. I was able to make a series of successful portraits which have made the final cut, and also enjoy my time being at the Centre. As I have said previously, their hospitality was warming and really made me feel a part of the community.